Second installment of our Cinque Terre travel series. Cinque Terre itinerary ideas to make the most of 1 day, 2 days or 3 full days in Cinque Terre, one of the most charming and colorful corners of Italy and UNESCO world heritage site.
Italy is full of gorgeous corners but few hit the visitor with that head-over-heels falling in love with Italy effect as Cinque Terre.
A series of five villages on the Liguria coast, in the North of Italy, Cinque Terre has all the elements of quintessential, visitor friendly Italy.
Colorful houses, stunning sea cliffs and excellent food all conjure up to create a package everyone wants a glimpse of and many visors try and fit in a stop here no matter how little time they have.
‘Can I see Cinque Terre in one day’ is one of the common questions about this area and one I have struggled with myself. I also wanted a slice of this beauty but had not time to spend a whole holiday in the area!
And so I came up with a plan.
I made the most of the fact that one of my best friends is from the area (super expert advice!!) and created a Cinque Terre itinerary for one day in the area, two or three to make the most of my time there.
If, like me, you want to make the most of your time here but have little time, this post is for you!
I have already shared an introduction to Cinque Terre in my post about visiting the area with kids here but I will give a overview of the area here anyway, so you have all the info together.
What is Cinque Terre and what does Cinque Terre mean?
Cinque Terre is a string of five villages located few kilometers one from the other on the coast of Liguria, in the North West of Italy.
The name ‘Cinque Terre’ literally means ‘five earths’: Cinque in Italian is the number 5 and terre is the plural of terra, which means earth/land or, in this case, village.
The 5 villages are:
In English, Cinque Terre is usually singular and takes no article (‘I went to Cinque Terre’) while in Italian the name is plural and comes with an article: in Italian you will find this ares to be called ‘Le Cinque Terre’, sometimes translated into ‘The Cinque Terre’.
This is irrelevant when you talk to locals or friends but I find it is a fun fact to know, especially if you find yourself wondering why so many Italians add the article ‘the’ before when talking about this place (I do that too)!
What is Cinque Terre famous for?
Cinque Terre is famous for being an area of exceptional natural and man made beauty.
This stretch of Italian coast is high and steep and over the course of the centuries its inhabitants have devised system to build houses and even develop agriculture around the constraints of this inhospitable terrain.
The result is unique
The cliffs here are the star of the show, with their rocky promontories plunging into the deep blue sea, but the colorful houses are the cherry on the cake.
Narrow and painted in bright colors, they cling onto the cliffs in gravity defying fashion, making this area so unique to have been declared both Italian national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Best way to get to Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre are very well connected to the rest of Italy by train and roads.
The closest cities to this area are La Spezia and Levanto (respectively at the two ends of the Cinque Terre villages), Genova and, farther away Milan.
Several day tours to Cinque Terre depart from Florence and this might make you believe it is a god base for exploring. However, Florence is quite far and even more so is Venice.
To give you and idea of distances, by train:
- Genova – Cinque Terre (Monterosso): a little over 1 hour
- Milan – Cinque Terre (Levanto): about 3 hours
- Florence – Cinque Terre: 2.5 – 3h
- Venice – Cinque Terre: over 4 hours.
As you can see, by far the best way to visit Cinque Terre is to base yourself in CInque Terre itself or in Portovenere and La Spazia.
Any more distant location will significantly eat into your day in the area.
How to get around Cinque Terre
There are 4 main ways to get around Cinque Terre: on foot, by train, by boat and by car.
Cinque Terre on foot
The most scenic way to visit the five towns of Cinque Terre is to go from one to the other on foot. The villages are all connected to each other by hiking paths offering amazing views over the famous Cinque Terre agricultural terraces, colorful houses and beautiful sea.
The paths are not exceptionally strenuous but for most part do require proper equipment and some level of fitness,especially if tackled under the sun.
Their accessibility changes each year and if planning on visiting this area on foot, getting up to date information at the local info points is paramount.
Cinque Terre by train
The easiest and most popular way to visit Cinque Terre is by train. The area is well served by an efficient regional train that connects each town to the next in a matter of minutes and town hopping here is easy and fun.
You can buy train tickets in each train station (each ticket is valid 75 minutes) or you can get hold of the Cinque Terre card, which allows you to catch any train any time during the period of validity of the card and also give extra perks such as free access to the park’s trails, wifi and toilets.
If you have a limited amount of time and want to make the most of the train to see as much as possible, the Cinque Terre card is an excellent investment (not so much if you focus on one or two towns only or want to hike most of the way).
Cinque Terre by car
Visiting Cinque terre by car is possible but not a great idea. Parking in the area is a nightmare and driving here makes you run the very high risk of spending the whole day in the car and see nothing.
If you have a rental car while in the area, I suggest you leave it in your hotel (if they have a space) or head early to Levanto to grab a parking space near the station.
Cinque Terre by boat
A great way to visit Cinque Terre for sea lovers is to use the local ferry service.
Local ferries depart from Lerici, La Spezia and Portovenere and connect not just the Cinque terre proper but also Levanto, Deiva, Marina, Moneglia, Portofino e l’isola Palmaria.
How to plan a Cinque terre itinerary: What to see in Cinque Terre towns
Cinque Terre is a compact stretch of land and even in one day it is possible to see all the five towns without excessive rush.
When planning your Cinque Terre itinerary it is useful to now what to expect in each so you can spend longer in the one that appeals to you the most, so here is a quick overview.
What to see in Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore is the first Cinque Terre town you encounter if coming from La Spezia. The town has ancient origins and it is still possible to see the town castle and houses dating back to medieval times.
The castle is worth a visit (there is a nice view from the terrace just behind it) and so is the church of San Giovanni Battista and the small church of Santa Maria Assunta.
The town is small and easy to explore in as little as half an hour. Make sure you see both higher part of town and fishing port just below.
What to see in Manarola
The second town you meet coming from La Spezia is Manarola, like Riomaggiore an ancient town developing around a small port and meandering streets.
Manarola has the colorful houses typical of this area but made a special name for itself for the production of wine and oil, coming from the terraces above the town.
The town is small but pretty and can be seen in about 40 minutes. The star of the show here is the view from the hiking path: the main path to Riomaggiore is closed at the time of writing but there are other, lesser known paths worth considering, if you feel like gaining height to catch a view.
Ask the local info point for a detailed map and current path conditions before venturing up.
What to see in Corniglia
Corniglia is the only one of the 5 Cinque Terre town not to be on the sea and it is therefore pretty different in feel from the others.
The town develops along one road connecting the city center to a belvedere and has some interesting churches (San Pietro dates back to 1300) as well as incredible viewpoints to admire the sea below.
Something important to know about Corniglia is about its accessibility. The town is accessible by train but once out of the station you need to negotiate 377 steps to get to the town!
Bus connections are available to cover that stretch and the ticket cost is included in the Cinque Terre card.
Corniglia is a nice place for a quiet meal: you can see the town in about 30 minutes
What to see in Vernazza
Vernazza is probably the most popular and photographed of all the towns in Cinque Terre. The town dates back to the XI century and is now a delight of meandering streets and colorful houses, all arranged around the town port.
The landscape here is dominated by the Doria Castle and worth a visit are also the church of Santa Margherita and the small Vernazza port, one of the most charming in the area.
This is one of the biggest towns in the area and is full of restaurants and hotels: while yo can visit Vernazza in a little over 40 minutes, it is worth taking the time to stay longer and visit the sites as well as soaking up the atmosphere as well as hopping down to the beach.
Vernazza has two small beaches (free) both easily reached from the station
In terms of hiking, Vernazza offers easy access to several hiking paths and among the most beautiful are the one to Corniglia and the one to Monterosso
What to see in Monterosso
Monterosso is the biggest of the five towns and the one that offers the easiest access to the sea, since it has a nice beach.
The town has several historical attractions worth visiting such the church of San Francesco and the town tower, the last one standing of 13 towers that used to protect the town.
Monterosso has some nice beaches and this makes is the town of choice for families or anyone who wants to have easy access to swimming options.
You can see the town of Monterosso in about an hour or so
Cinque Terre itinerary 1 day – town hopping
As you can see from the times above, a basic 1 day itinerary to see Cinque Terre is easily done: if you are happy to get a glimpse of the five towns and do no hiking, the plan is as simple as starting from one and use the train to move form one to other other, in order.
The distance between trains stations of literally between 3 and 5 minutes so you can easily see them all in one day.
I recommend to start in Riomaggiore and finish in Monterosso if you want a splash in the sea at the end of the day or go the opposite direction if you fancy an aperitivo in a smaller, quite town such as Riomaggiore.
Cinque terre itinerary 1 day – with easy hiking option
While simple town hoping in Cinque Terre is a lovely way to see the area, if you can, you should include some hiking. In the itinerary below, I give an easy option.
Start your day in Riomaggiore and spend your morning between this beautiful town and the one just beside it, Manarola.
If the path between the two town is open (currently it is not), do take the easy stroll between one and the other. If it it isn’t, just soak up the atmosphere in Monterosso, then reach Manarola by train and treat yourself to a coffee break with a side of focaccia.
After that, hop on the train again and head to Corniglia.
This is a wonderful, quiet place for lunch and a perfect place to gather your energy before the afternoon hike.
Hike to Vernazza and take in the wonderful view from this scenic hiking route.
This path takes approximately 1h and 30 minutes and poses no special level of difficulty. It is however a hiking path and has steps in Vernazza so you want to take this into account if you have knee issues or are not equipped with proper hiking shoes (there is also a fine for unsuitable footwear!).
Once in Vernazza, take a stroll around the town and reward your effort with a snack or apertitivo surrounded by the colorful houses of this most charming of towns.
Hop back on the train and reach Monterosso. Explore the town and reward yourself with a swim!
Cinqe Terre itinerary 2 days
With two days in Cinque Terre you can see the five towns of the area with ease and you can also add some good hiking.
With two days and a desire for sporty endeavors, you can do:
Day 1 Monterosso -Vernazza – Corniglia
- Morning: Start your day with the hike between Monterosso to Vernazza. This path goes up quite steeply from Monterosso and it is worth tackling it in the morning before the heat of the day gets too strong.
- Lunch: have lunch in Vernazza and spend the afternoon here. Then take the train or hike again to Corniglia and spend the late afternoon here
- Head back to Monterosso for dinner.
Day 2 Manarola – Riomaggiore – Portovenere
- Morning: Take the train to Manarola and spend your morning between this lovely town and Riomaggiore, nearby
- Afternoon: Have Lunch in Riomaggiore then catch the train again and head to Portovenere, a little farther south. While not one of the Cinque Terre proper, Portovenere is wort a visit and is a shot hop from Riomaggiore, a really easy add to your day!
I remember I visited Portovenere with my parents for the first time when I was a child: I still remember it as an amazing place!
3 days in Cinque Terre
With 3 days in Cinque Terre you start having some lovely options. A good itinerary for 3 days in the area follows the same outline of the two days itinerary above but allows you to add some extra activities such as a boat tour or more hiking.
In the good season I would personally op for the boat tour for an itinerary as follows:
Day 1 Monterosso – Vernazza – Corniglia
Morning: hike Monterosso to Vernazza, have lunch in Vernazza
Afternoon: reach Corniglia and spend the afternoon before heading back to Monterosso
Day 2 Manarola, Riomaggiore, Portovenere
Morning: spend the morning between the small towns of Manarola and Riomaggiore
Afternoon: catch a train to Portovenere, a little farther afield.
Day 3 Boat tour + terra of choice
Morning: Take a bout tour and see the towns from the sea (many offer focaccia and wine on board!)
Afternoon: now that you know the towns, select the one of your choice for a lazy afternoon!
Hiking in 5 Terre: how to choose a hiking path for your itinerary
Depending on your level of fitness and interests you may want to add more hiking to your itinerary.
If this is the case, a quick overview of the hiking paths in the area can be useful although please be devised that hiking conditions change every season and you will have to check on arrival what paths are open at any given time.
The information in this table comes from the official park info material and is an estimate of level of difficulty and time needed to hike each path.
|Name of Path||Official lever of difficulty estimate||Estimate time needed|
|Sentiero dell’Amore Riomaggiore – Manarola||Easy||20 min|
|Sentiero Azzurro Manarola – Corniglia||Easy||45 mins|
|Sentiero Azzurro Corngilia – Vernazza||Easy||1h30min|
|Sentiero Azzurro Vernazza – Monterosso||Easy but more strenuous than others||1h20 mins|
|Anello di Riomaggiore||Easy||1h20 mins|
|Manarola – Corniglia via Volastra||Easy, especially starting from Corniglia||2h20 mins|
|Riomaggiore – Beccaria – Manarola||Medium||1h|
|Monterosso – Levanto||Easy||3h|
|Riomaggiore – Portovenere||medium||6h|
|Vernazza – Due Santuari _Monterosso||Medium||3h 30 mins|
|Corniglia – San Bernardino – Vernazza||Medium||3h30|
Cinque Terre itinerary: what to bring
- Unless you opt for town hopping only, it is paramount to be equipped with proper hiking shoes to tackle the paths.
- Make sure you have water on you at all times if hiking and proper sun protection
- If hiking on any of the paths, make sure your have the relevant permit
I hope you fond this overview of Cinque Terre and surrounding area useful and it helped you plan you perfect Cinque Terre itinerary.